In 8th grade, Desmond Davis’ basketball coach pulled him aside for a conversation about his future with the team. He started by suggesting that maybe he should move on from the sport. 

Under typical circumstances, calling his suggestion “tough love” would be an understatement, but coach’s suggestion to Davis was for him to instead focus his time on something he was noticeably better at — playing drums. Up to that point, Davis had been splitting his time between playing basketball for his elementary school team and drumming for different churches on the South and West sides. 

“He said something like ‘I’m not saying you’re not capable of taking this basketball thing to the next level, but I know that music is your thing,'” 29-year-old Davis recalls. Today, he lives in Nashville and plays the drums as Black Drum Hippie, for various musical acts, including Hunter Hayes and fellow Chicago-area artists Todd Dulaney and Jonathan McReynolds. At 14 years old, he had no idea that single conversation would set him on the path to an award-winning career in music. 

On July 15, Davis won his first ever ASCAP award for his role in writing the song “Deliver Me.” He took the award for Top Gospel Song at the 2020 ASCAP Rhythm and Soul awards. Winning his first songwriting award wasn’t necessarily a goal for the lifelong instrumentalist, but the story behind making it to this point goes all the way back to his West Side roots. In a phone interview on July 16, we discussed how the song came to be and how his career progressed from Chicago’s neighborhood churches to awards stages.

Davis grew up in a family that was as heavily involved in music as they were in the Baptist Church. His cousins — Thaddeus Johnson, a bassist, and Tavarius Johnson, a drummer — both perform professionally alongside acts such as Marvin Sapp, Malcolm Simmons, and Yolanda Adams. 

“Everyone in my family did something musical,” Davis says. “So even though it wasn’t forced on me, it always felt like something I was destined to do.” 

As a preteen, Davis didn’t get the opportunity to play at his first home church, Mt. Moriah Baptist, but when his family changed membership to Greater St. John Baptist Church (now Greater St. John Bible Church) in Garfield Park, he began playing occasional Sundays when the main drummer was out touring. 

“By the age of 13, I was volunteering to play at pretty much everybody’s church on the West Side,” he says. “I realized my uncles and cousins were making money off of doing music. I had always taken it seriously but it became my main focus going forward.”

Davis attended Carl Schurz High School on the North Side because of its outstanding music program. Throughout high school, he began capitalizing on his drum skills by playing for churches, where he was getting paid $100-$200 per Sunday, as well as recording as a drummer for artists on a professional level. 

Around his sophomore year in high school, Davis met his production team members and “Deliver Me” co-writers, Marshon Lewis and Robert Woolridge. Woolridge played bass in the jazz band at nearby Foreman College and Career Academy, and Lewis was a familiar face as a fellow Chicago church band journeyman. The team worked together on recording and even went to the 2017 Grammys, nominated as part of the band that recorded Todd Dulaney’s album, A Worshipper’s Heart.

Black Drum Hippie on the drums for Hunter Hayes' headlining show at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival in Canada | Photo courtesy of Black Drum Hippie

“We met Sir [the Baptist] when he was singing background for Chance the Rapper and he told us he was working on his own thing,” Davis says. “When we auditioned for [Sir’s band] we kind of already knew we were in there.” 

It was during their time as part of Sir’s band in 2016 that “Deliver Me” was first written. “Sir came into the studio around the time we were completing work on his album and said that he wanted to add another track,” Davis says. The song was inspired by Sir’s sister who had been in a physically abusive relationship with a church deacon. “This was his sister’s testimony reworked into song form.” 

Davis, Lewis, and Woolridge are responsible for coming up with the music that turned the testimony into a hit record. Every note and every measure was first performed and recorded in that studio session.

The song, featuring R&B singer Brandy, was first featured on Sir’s 2017 album Saint or Sinner. Brandy’s name recognition gave the song instant notoriety online but the radio play and streaming didn’t fully match that. 

“When Brandy sang it originally, the song caught some steam. But there were a lot of [promotional] plans that fell through the cracks,” says Davis. As a result, the original release didn’t go too far. 

Later, Donald Lawrence, upon hearing the song, asked to re-release it on his 2019 album Goshen. “I think Donald is a genius. Anything he touches goes the distance. When he got a hold of it, it took on a whole new life.” The only major change was that he added his choir, the Tri-City Singers.

Lawrence’s version of the song reached number one on the Billboard Gospel Airplay chart in 2019. When the song’s notoriety snowballed to that point, he knew that anything — even award nods — was possible. Davis was honored in a virtual 2020 ASCAP awards ceremony, the first one in the awards’ history due to COVID-19.

“It’s definitely a different feeling being awarded as a writer,” Davis says. “When you’re just the musician playing the instrument, you’re seen as hired work, so you aren’t going home with a Grammy, even if the record wins something. That’s typically the position I’m in as a drummer. With this song I’m credited as a writer and publisher.”  

In 2019, Davis relocated from Chicago to Nashville. Living in the American music industry powerhouse city was a lifelong dream of his. During the pandemic, he has been hard at work trying to improve as an artist. His main goals at the moment are becoming more adept at reading music, and playing keys. His purpose: to maximize his God-given gift. 

“So much of my life I had a 70-30 relationship with God,” Davis says. “Once I moved to Nashville, I started to give all 100% and I haven’t looked back since.”

is a staff writer with The TRiiBE. Email him with news tips.